Virtua Racing or V.R. for short, is a Formula One racing arcade game, developed by Sega AM2 and released in October 1992. Virtua Racing was initially a proof-of-concept application for exercising a new 3D-graphics platform under development, the "Model 1". The results were so encouraging, that Virtua Racing was fully developed into a standalone arcade title. Though its use of 3D polygonal graphics was predated by arcade rivals Namco (Winning Run in 1988) and Atari (Hard Drivin' in 1989), Virtua Racing had vastly improved visuals in terms of polygon count, frame rate, and overall scene complexity, which all contributed to a greater sense of immersion. Virtua Racing is regarded as one of the most influential video games of all time, for laying the foundations for subsequent 3D racing games and for popularizing 3D polygonal graphics among a wider audience.
The original arcade game has three levels, designated into difficulties. Beginner is "Big Forest", intermediate is "Bay Bridge" and expert is "Acropolis". Each level has its own special feature, for example the amusement park in "Big Forest", or the "Bay Bridge" itself, or the tight hairpin of "Acropolis".
VR introduced the "V.R. View System" by allowing the player to choose one of four views to play the game. This feature was then used in most other Sega arcade racing games (and is mentioned as a feature in the attract mode of games such as Daytona USA). It was later ported to home consoles, starting with the Mega Drive/Genesis in 1994.
Due to the complexity of the Model 1 board, a home console version seemed unlikely, until 1994 when a cartridge design incorporating the Sega Virtua Processor on an extra chip was created to enable a version on the Mega Drive/Genesis. It was more expensive than other games, initially retailing at £70 in the United Kingdom and US$100 in the United States. Despite being severely scaled down and uses the machine's low-res 256 x 192 mode, it was still technically impressive, and was very well received by reviewers, with some of them claiming it to be the most impressive 16-bit game ever created from a technical standpoint. In September 1994, Famitsu magazine's Reader Cross Review gave the Mega Drive version of the game an 8 out of 10. Mega placed the game at #4 in their Top Mega Drive Games of All Time.
"...the speed, graphic intensity and addictive gameplay that made the arcade game a major hit are all included in this awe inspiring release." (Diehard GameFan magazine, June 1994 issue)
The game was incompatible with Majesco's re-released Genesis 3 from 1998, and would not work on any Mega Drive equipped with a Sega 32X.
The Sega 32X version also known as Virtua Racing Deluxe was released in 1994, developed by Sega AM2, and published by Sega under the Sega Sports label. It performed much closer to the original arcade, included two extra cars ("Stock" and "Prototype") and two new tracks ("Highland" and "Sand Park"). Due to the poor sales of the 32X, the game was not as popular as its Mega Drive predecessor.